The captain started, his breath was still.
In March 1991, a record with a black and white photo of four men — no band name, no album name — floating in an abandoned quarry, staring and smiling right at the camera, began to appear in music stores. Those pulled in by the cover would find themselves enwrapped in a world of mystique — the band had broken up before the album's release, the music on the album was dark and depressing with lyrics emphasising isolation, and one of the members supposedly had to be institutionalised during/after the recording (the rumour varies); it was as if it was cursed. Despite being largely ignored on its release, the few that did hear it bore witness to something different, giving birth to a new genre.
Spiderland is the sophomore and final album by American Post-Hardcore/Math Rock band Slint, released through Touch and Go Records on March 27, 1991. A very marked departure from their first album Tweez, Spiderland set itself apart by removing itself of traditional hardcore structures, instead focusing on usage of long crescendos and sudden diminuendos (today, the term "Slint Dynamics" is used for dynamics similar to the ones featured on this album) and narrative lyrics delivered in spoken word. Fueling the mysteriousness around the album was the Troubled Production: the entire thing was stressfully recorded over four nights, and singer Brian McMahan threw his voice and became physically ill after recording the LP's final track, "Good Morning, Captain".
Notable for, along with Laughing Stock by Talk Talk (also from 1991), pioneering the genre known as Post-Rock, which would in turn bring about artists such as Godspeed You! Black Emperor and inspire other bands, such as Swans in their later years, to help define what post-rock could be. Also brought profound influence on Math Rock and underground music in general. The band has since reunited, are touring and are rumoured to be working on new material. Breadcrumb Trail, a Rockumentary about the album's recording, was released in 2015.
- "Breadcrumb Trail" (5:56)
- "Nosferatu Man" (5:35)
- "Don, Aman" (6:28)
- "Washer" (8:50)
- "For Dinner..." (5:06)
- "Good Morning, Captain" (7:39)
- Brian McMahan - Vocals, guitar
- David Pajo - Guitar
- Todd Brashear - Bass
- Britt Walford - Drums, guitar, vocals (spoken word verses in "Nosferatu Man", latter two for "Don, Aman")
I shouted and searched the tropes for a friend:
- Album Closure: It's hard to imagine a more fitting or climactic finale for the record than "Good Morning, Captain".
- all lowercase letters: The liner notes.
- Amusement Park: The setting for "Breadcrumb Trail".
- Anti-Climax/Surprisingly Happy Ending: The story behind "Breadcrumb Trail" starts off relatively normal before descending into a weird and terrifying experience. Then, just as suddenly as it all began, all the surreal aspects of the song end and we're treated to the protagonist simply leaving.
- Breather Episode: "For Dinner..." serves as the cooldown track between "Washer" and "Good Morning, Captain".
- Brown Note: Was this for the band.
- There was a rumour that one of the band members got institutionalised after recording. This was later confirmed to be Brian.
- Buffy Speak: "Breadcrumb Trail" with: "I pulled back the drape thing on the tent".
- This was how Spiderland got its name: McMahan's younger brother, upon hearing the album, said that it sounded "spidery".
- Byronic Hero: The main character of "Nosferatu Man" is essentially this.
- Call-Back: The raging guitars toward the middle of "Good Morning, Captain" echo the guitar part of the chorus of "Breadcrumb Trail."
- Careful with That Axe: The chorus of "Nosferatu Man" and the ending to "Good Morning, Captain", the latter of which made Brian vomit right after.
- Cerebus Syndrome: While still creepy and having that same horror undercurrent as the rest of the album, "Breadcrumb Trail" at least has some semblance of a positive time and a happy ending. After that, however, the mood of the album plummets immediately and doesn't let up.
- Classical Anti-Hero: Don of "Don, Aman" has many elements of this character type.
- Concept Album: Though it's more like a short story collection than a novel. The lyrics all tell tales of alienation. There are also Epileptic Trees that all the songs also have themes of sleep, dreaming, and death, as argued here. References to water are also common, starting with the cover.
- Cosmic Horror Story / Gothic Horror: Several songs' lyrics have strong elements of these. Even the ones that aren't explicitly horror stories still have an unsettling undercurrent.
- Creepy Monotone: Brian McMahan and Britt Walford's spoken word parts. As creepy as Brian's are, "Don, Aman" shows that Britt can make it even creepier.
- Darker and Edgier: Compared to Tweez.
- Can also be seen as this trope when compared to Laughing Stock. Both are the Trope Makers for Post-Rock with six tracks and at roughly the same runtime (Laughing Stock is about three minutes longer) that reflect a change in sound their earlier works had no hint towards with a more serious tone, released in 1991 after the bands had broken up note . The differences are that Laughing Stock borrows influence from art rock and jazz, while Spiderland comes from a Post-Hardcore background and feels more disjointed and jarring compared to Laughing Stock's more atmospheric sound.
- Deliberately Monochrome: The black and white photo of the band helps the cover capture the album's sound very effectively: cold, contrasting and creepy.
- Downer Ending: The whole album is rather dark, but "Good Morning, Captain" is the darkest track on the album by far. It's more terrifying than it is sad, but it nonetheless ends with Brian McMahan screaming "I MISS YOU" while David Pajo plays an epic Thrash Metal riff.
- Driven to Suicide: "Washer", possibly.
- Epic Rocking: Every song on the album is over five minutes long. "Washer" is the longest, approaching nine.
- Face on the Cover: The band floating in the Utica Quarry, an abandoned quarry near their native Louisville. Their faces are all you can see of them, adding to the mystique around the group and this album in particular.
- Foreshadowing: "Breadcrumb Trail" begins with the protagonist searching for a ship at an amusement park. The plot of "Good Morning, Captain" centres around the survivor of a shipwreck.
- Fortune Teller: One of the central characters in "Breadcrumb Trail".
- Gainax Ending: "Good Morning, Captain". Is it real? Is the captain hallucinating? Is the captain dead? No one knows. "Nosferatu Man" also qualifies, as it's never exactly clear what happened to the queen (it's implied that he fed from her and killed her, but this album being this album, you can't be too sure).
- Genre-Busting: Even for Post-Rock. Mainly because said genre was an Unbuilt Trope, even during its first wave.
- Heartbeat Soundtrack: A lot of the drumming in the album resembles heartbeats, and even the quickening guitars in "Don, Aman" evoke this effect.
- Hunting the Most Dangerous Game: The plot behind "Nosferatu Man".
- I Love the Dead: "Nosferatu Man." Maybe.
- I Just Want to Have Friends: "Don, Aman".
- Instrumental: "For Dinner...".
- Jump Scare: The guitar hook after the second verse of "Good Morning, Captain" (which is featured in the page quote) acts as this.
- Leitmotif: What three of the four main sections of "Breadcrumb Trail" are: the clean 7/4 riff plays when the protagonist and the fortune teller are walking around; the 12/8-15/8 sections resemble a rollercoaster ride; the 4/4-6/4 section with dissonant chords play when the narrative focuses on the ride's operator.
- Loudness War: Averted with the 2014 remaster, which maintains a solid dynamic range despite being noticeably louder than the original.
- Lyrical Cold Open: "Don, Aman": "Don stepped outside."
- Lyrical Dissonance: "Breadcrumb Trail", despite being as dark as the rest of this album instrumentally, pretty much revolves around making a new friend at a carnival. Brian's anguished screaming of "creeping up into the sky"? It's about a rollercoaster. The song still fits in with the general dreamlike ambience of the rest of the record, even lyrically, and there's arguably a subtext that something traumatic has happened to one of the characters (as suggested here), but what exactly that trauma is has been left out - the song simply ends before we can find out.
- Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: "Breadcrumb Trail", "Nosferatu Man", and "Good Morning, Captain" all have surreal elements to their narratives. However, whether these are really happening or not is left very ambiguous throughout the songs and abruptly stop before any explanation can be given.
- Motifs: There's a lot of water imagery in each song.
- "Breadcrumb Trail" starts off with the narrator looking for a ride called "the pirate ship".
- The narrator in "Nosferatu Man" says "Like a bat I flushed the girl" when he talks about killing someone.
- Don's situation is compared to "swimming underwater in the darkness."
- "Washer" has a lot of imagery of drowning and crying.
- "Good Morning, Captain" is the most obvious one, being about the only survivor of a shipwreck.
- Nameless Narrative: Every song except for "Don, Aman", whose eponymous character is also the only character.
- New Sound Album: One common observation is just how jarring the difference is between Tweez and Spiderland; it was like a new band just appeared out of thin air.
- No Ending: Lyrically, almost all of the songs fall into either this or Gainax Ending. Or sometimes both. Musically, this is an Averted Trope, however.
- No Social Skills: The protagonist of "Don, Aman".
- Non-Appearing Title: "Washer" is the only exception to this.
- Nothing Is Scarier: Many of the songs have undercurrents of horror to their lyrics, but the actual horrors themselves are never actually described, so what they are is left to the listener's imagination. This is most obvious on "Good Morning, Captain", but it's present on several of the other songs as well.
- Ominous Latin Chanting: In "Breadcrumb Trail", the rest of the band actually sings backing vocals in the second distorted verse (beginning with the lyric "spinning round"). They're singing a continuous "aah", and it's mixed in very quietly in the song, so it's incredibly subtle.
- One-Word Title: The album and the song "Washer".
- Perishing Alt-Rock Voice: So perishing Brian didn't so much sing as mumble spoken word narration most of the time, and fell ill due to the strain of yelling the climax of "Good Morning, Captain".
- Pun: "Nosferatu Man" has the lyric "My lids are opened when the sun is high".Explanation
- Scare Chord: The high pitched distorted guitar that follows each of the verses in "Nosferatu Man".
- Ship Tease: Between the narrator and the fortune teller in "Breadcrumb Trail". See the lyrics at the bottom of the page for the clearest example.
- Shout-Out: "Nosferatu Man" references "Ramblin' Man" by Hank Williams, and displays a reversal of the situation in both songs: "Ramblin' Man" ends with the song's protagonist dead and his wife standing at his grave, while "Nosferatu Man" is about the protagonist reminiscing about his (possibly) dead queen.
- Shrouded in Myth: Due to the band's semi reclusive nature, creepy sound, nearly limited information, and their reputation as Short-Lived, Big Impact, Spiderland sounds all the more mysterious.
- Sole Survivor: The captain in "Good Morning, Captain" is seemingly the only survivor of a shipwreck, until he hears a voice at the door.
- Spiritual Antithesis: To Talk Talk's Laughing Stock, the other Trope Maker for post-rock that came out in the same year. The two, while both considered cornerstones of the genre, are so starkly different from each other that they inadvertently illustrate just what a nebulous phrase "post-rock" actually is. Laughing Stock is a lush, jazzy record that uses diverse instrumentation and free flowing song structures to create a peaceful, spiritual, faintly melancholic atmosphere. It was made by a British band that already had several commercially successful New Wave Music albums under their belt, and featured over a dozen studio musicians playing everything from saxophone to viola. Spiderland meanwhile is a sparse, cold, eerie record made in a basement by a bunch of Louisville punks, which uses unusual song structures, deadpan vocals, and skeletal production to create an oppressive, macabre atmosphere. If Laughing Stock is a beautiful, Edenic garden, then this album is an old, rusting railroad bridge standing over a swamp.
- Spoken Word in Music: Like narration drawn out as the music gets darker with the narration? You're in luck.
- Step Up to the Microphone: "Don, Aman" has vocals and guitar by drummer Britt Walford.
- Suddenly Shouting: Brian often goes from mumbling speech to shouting. The best example of this is his screaming in "Good Morning, Captain".
- Switching P.O.V.: "Don, Aman" and "Good Morning, Captain" are in third-person narration, while the rest of the album consists of first-person perspectives.
- Take That!: CD copies of the album often feature a disclaimer on the back cover reading "this recording is meant to be listened to on vinyl," a not-so-subtle jab against the Compact Disc, which had already become the dominant format for music at the time of the album's release.
- Team Shot: One of the creepier examples.
- Terms of Endangerment: It's implied that the 'queen' in "Nosferatu Man" is an unfortunate trespasser.
- Textless Album Cover: One which only added to the mystique of the record. Combined with the band members' eerie smiles, the album art becomes subtly unwelcoming and oblique. A fitting match for the music.
- Thrash Metal: The jam section in "Nosferatu Man" has elements of this, and Todd Brashear has cited Metallica as an influence on the album as a whole.
- Train Song: "Nosferatu Man" makes frequent references to trains.
- Trope Maker: Of Post-Rock (along with Talk Talk) and Math Rock.
- Uncommon Time: Comes with being a Math Rock band:
- The time signatures for "Breadcrumb Trail" are, in order of appearance: 7/4 (the main clean riff), 4/4 (as both a transitionary measure and the spoken word interludes), 12/8, 15/8 (both played interchangeably in the distorted segments), 6/4 (after the dissonant chord is played in the interludes), and 3/4 (during the last few interludes, where the 4/4 measures get cut short).
- For "Nosferatu Man", the time signatures are: 6/4 (the opening snare hits, the two choruses, the post-chorus, the end of the third verse and the final verse), 5/4 (the first two verses, the first instrumental bridge and the third verse), 3/4 (during the first bridge, after two measures of 5/4), 4/4 (the end of the first instrumental bridge and the fading outro), 15/4 (second bridge), and 7/4 (the transition between the second bridge and the final verse).
- The Unsmile: Spiderland's iconically creepy cover shows the band treading water in a lake in an abandoned quarry near their hometown Louisville with deranged, barely smiling facial expressions.
- Vampire Bites Suck: Implied to be the fate of the queen in "Nosferatu Man".
- Villain Protagonist: The vampiric protagonist of "Nosferatu Man", who seems to be some sort of Serial Killer.
- Wham Line: "The ticket taker smiles, and the last car is ready. 'Who told you you could leave?'"
- "When I'm Gone" Song: "Washer".
- Whole Plot Reference: "Good Morning, Captain" is based on The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
- The sun was setting by the time we left.
We walked across the deserted lot, alone.
We were tired, but we had managed to smile.
At the gate, I said, "goodnight", to the fortune teller,
the carnival sign threw colored shadows on her face.
But I could tell she was blushing.